[Act 5:17 ESV] 17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy
[Act 15:5 ESV] 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
[Act 24:5, 14 ESV] 5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. … 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,
[Act 26:5 ESV] 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
[Act 28:22 ESV] 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
[1Co 11:19 ESV] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
[Gal 5:20 ESV] 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,
[2Pe 2:1 ESV] 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
The words in bold type within the verses above all use the Greek word for heresy.
These labels were a big thing during the height of the Charismatic Movement. If you didn’t believe like the “other guy,” you got labeled.
Of course, that was somewhat of a carryover from previous decades. The Baptists thought the Methodists did baptism wrong and were therefore heretics. Both of them thought that Catholics were going to hell for being Catholic. Catholics and Church of Christ both thought anyone who was not a part of their group was going to hell.
During the Reformation, those who were labeled heretics were burned at the stake or otherwise disposed of. All the way back to the early church, anyone thought to be a heretic was eliminated. Stephen was stoned for being a follower of Jesus, which was heresy to the Jews. Jesus was murdered because He was accused of negating the law of Moses.
Thankfully, much of that has changed. At least we don’t lose our life for being heretical. However, it is possible to lose your livelihood for believing something not accepted by the majority. Ask any minister who has been defrocked by their denomination for believing something outside their prescribed statement of faith.
What is heresy? Who decides what is heresy? Why is it even a concern?
Being labeled a false prophet had a traumatic effect on me as a young believer. I had such a strong sense of God’s call on my life, and I wanted to serve Him with all my being. To be told by those whom I respected in the ministry that I would be labeled a false prophet sent me into a tailspin.
I abandoned the ministry the Lord had begun in Pensacola and fled to Springfield, MO. But that was not the last time I would be labeled in a negative fashion.
The same minister who labeled me the first time told those who wanted to move with me to PA that they would be going with a rebel. Rebel was a tough label, because rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft. (1 Sam. 15:23)
Those things no longer bother me, though. I’ve been around long enough, and studied the scriptures enough to know that being labeled in a negative fashion is not the end of the world.
In fact, sometimes it is a sign of being on the right track with the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word translated heresy is only found 9 times in the New Testament, and it is only translated ‘heresy’ 3 times in the King James Version, and only once in the English Standard Version. It is most often translated as ‘sect’ or ‘party.’
With that understanding, I can see where every denomination and independent church that exists today is heretical, because each is a sect—by definition. So, maybe it is not such a devastating term.
While the term may no longer be used, the concept is used by those who need to maintain their power. However, that is nothing new, either.
Remember the man born blind as recorded in John 9? His parents were asked about him. But they did like so many other eyewitnesses, they dodged the truth out of fear.
(His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) [Jn. 9:22 ESV]
Being put out of the synagogue was a shunning of extreme proportions in those days. You would be without support of any kind from friends or family—completely on your own. You would be labeled a heretic for believing something not sanctioned by the leaders.
It is the leaders who decide what is heretical and what is orthodox. They are able to keep people from growing in the Lord with their decisions. It usually doesn’t matter whether you can show from the scripture what you believe. If it goes against the entrenched system of belief, it is deemed wrong.
That is what happened to Martin Luther when he challenged the practices of the Catholic Church of his day. From Martin Luther through today, there has been a steady unveiling of truth by the Holy Spirit. In almost every case, the ones who have been open to revelation are ostracized by those who are not.
Truth in its first form is almost always rejected. Push-back can challenge those who are seeing something different, and make them want to abandon what they are seeing. Eventually, though, the new revelation is accepted by the mainstream and becomes swallowed up in orthodox, toe-the-line religion.
There is a move of God beginning to swell around the world. There is much push-back against the doctrines of grace as they are being revealed in this hour. Those who are kicking will probably have Paul’s experience—And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (Act 26:14 ESV)
If your heart is one to serve the Lord with all your being, you will discover resistance to be harder for you than for those whom you resist.
May the Lord give us all eyes to see and ears to hear.
And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. (Luk 8:10 KJV)